Advice and tips on how to drive on icy roads

Advice and tips on how to drive on icy roads

As temperatures drop lower and lower in the night, turning rain into slippery ice, mornings and early commutes can become really dangerous as ice becomes the motorists worst enemy. But with some driving tips and advice you should be out of trouble.

How to Drive on Icy Roads

Excessive snow is not usually something we need to worry about here in the UK, but the combination of rain and freezing temperatures can prove to be a genuine risk on the road especially for unexperienced drivers.

Overall ice is a risk whether you are a new driver or an experienced one with years of driving under your belt. Nor does it matter if you drive a city car or a 4x4 SUV with a switchable traction system.

How to Prepare for Driving on Ice

  1. Consider if your Journey is Essential - If it's a non-essential journey, then just postpone it. Driving on the ice can be intimidating for inexperienced drivers, especially if a skid should occur. Even if you are a confident driver on ice, on the road not everybody else will be, so the potential of an accident will always be greater in this tricky conditions. In this situations you should always look for alternatives and consider them ahead of driving.
  2. Pack a fully charged mobile phone - You might think that breaking down won’t happen to you, but it’s best to be prepared for every eventuality. It could be a flat tyre, flat battery or something worse – either way, make sure you’ve got a mobile phone and a few other essentials. Check our winter breakdown checklist for a full breakdown of what you’ll need.
  3. Be Equipped for Ice Before you Set Off - Make sure you have de-icer and an ice scraper so you can effectively remove any ice from your windows and mirrors.
  4. Screen wash - Make sure there’s enough in your tank. Icy weather can cause all kinds of debris to land on your windscreen, especially on the motorways. Without the screen wash, you won’t be able to clear your windscreen see clearly. It’s inexpensive and easy to fill up, so don’t be caught short on this one.
  5. Check your Tyre Treads - Check tyre treads simply with a 20p coin – if the inner rim of the coin is visible you will need to change your tyres immediately. In the winter months, you should consider changing to winter tyres or all season tyres, which are more adept at handling wet conditions.

How to Tell if You’re Driving on Ice?

You’ll know if you are driving on ice when your tyres make less noise than they typically would on the road. Similarly to aquaplaning, your steering wheel will also become unresponsive.

Tips for Driving on Ice

  1. Maintain moderate speed - In icy conditions the first thing to do is drive slowly and use small and gentle movements and avoid slamming on the brakes. Another thing to keep in mind is that stopping distances can be increased by a factor of 10 on icy surfaces.
  2. Drive Gently - If you have a manual or semi-automatic car, when setting off try using the second gear instead of the first, this is to avoid overwhelming the tyres. If you are driving down a hill in icy conditions then make sure to reduce your speed by using a lower gear to help you travel slower.
  3. Plan Ahead - Stick to the main roads which are more likely to have been gritted and plan your route ahead. Beware of shaded areas in the road where icy can be present. Try to take bus routes which have been gritted.
  4. Know what to do in an emergency - If your car starts sliding, the first thing to do is put the clutch in and turn the steering wheel into the direction of the skid. This will free up the wheels to start turning and this will give a bit of traction in the slide. Read more about how to control a skid.
  5. Don't get overly confident - Whatever car you may be driving, icy roads can be tricky for everyone so make sure to give your full focus on your driving and on the driving of others. Icy roads can be unpredictable. Be careful at all times.
  6. Use a higher gear - Where appropriate, use a higher gear than normal. Driving in a higher gears on icy roads will aid traction on packed ice.

How to drive on black ice

Black ice can be hard to identify. The clue’s in the name, making it appear almost invisible to road users. Typically, you will come across black ice more so on quieter residential roads that aren’t gritted, but it can appear anywhere. Black ice is actually a thin layer of ice on the road surface and it may glint slightly.

Advice for driving on black ice is much the same as any other ice or adverse weather:

  • Don’t panic
  • Maintain speed and don’t hit the brakes as this may cause you to skid out
  • Keep your steering straight
  • Avoid sudden movements

Are 4 Wheel Drive Cars Better on Ice

It is a common misconception that 4x4s or SUVs are better (or safer) when driving on the ice. In reality the only significant difference between 4 wheel drives and 2 wheel drives is when you start to drive. A 4 wheel drive will prevent spinning tyres and typically be able to get your going in situations where a 2 wheel drive wouldn’t.

However, once you’re moving, 4 wheel drives are just as susceptible to the dangers of driving on ice as any 2 wheel drive car. Traction, braking distances and steering remain unchanged whether driving a 4 wheel drive or 2 wheel drive car.

The only aspect of a 4 wheel drive car that might be an improvement on a 2 wheel drive car is tyre size. 4x4s and SUVs typically have larger tyres than smaller 2 wheel drive cars, meaning the surface area is greater, which allows for more traction with the road.

How to Drive an Automatic Car in Snow and Ice

For the most part, the advice is the same for automatic cars and manual. Whether you’re driving an automatic car or a manual car.

As with all cars, you should drive carefully, avoid panicking and maintain a moderate speed. Do not accelerate too quickly or brake too harshly.

Some automatic cars will allow a driver to select second gear for starting in, which may help in icy conditions. Equally, some automatic cars may allow you to select a higher gear, which can help you achieve traction in icy conditions.

Some automatic cars come with a L, 2 or +/- control which allows drivers to change up into a higher or lower gear in the case of snowy road conditions